How to Make a Tree Swing That Will Last a Lifetime

Learn how you can build a sturdy, old-fashioned wood-seat tree swing with these instructions and diagrams, perfect for summer fun.

| August/September 1992

  • 133-43-i1.jpg
    There's a real pride in knowing I helped to put smiles on children's faces—a pride everyone should know.
  • 133-42_01.jpg
    Two of the best knots for securing the swing: the becket bend (top) and the bowline (bottom). The bowline is best used for knots around the limb, the Becket for the knotholes in the swing.
  • 133-43-i2.jpg
    A sturdy-built seat makes for a swing that will last for a couple of generations.
  • 133-42-1_01.jpg
    Layout and fastening: the seat.
  • 133-42-1_02.jpg
    Cutting Guide:1. Seat Halves 2. Center Cleat 3. End Cleats
  • 133-42-1_03.jpg
    Layout and fastening:4. Seat Boards 5. Rope Holes 6. ScrewsBroken line = cleats

  • 133-43-i1.jpg
  • 133-42_01.jpg
  • 133-43-i2.jpg
  • 133-42-1_01.jpg
  • 133-42-1_02.jpg
  • 133-42-1_03.jpg

My childhood was graced with an older generation that knew how a kids' swing ought to be built. No flimsy metal frame sets with cramped plastic seats hung on thin, palm-cutting clothesline. No thigh-squeezing rubber slings on finger-pinching chain either. Instead, there were stout wood seats that little knees could lock on to, and boat-mooring line, suspended from sturdy tree branches, and that was fat enough to give a firm grasp. At the old family homestead, a swing at the river bank was fastened so high that the rope disappeared forever into the canopy of a huge black oak. Pumping hard, we could swing 15 feet above the water…let go and fly almost to midstream…and land in a cannonball worthy of the name.

I've built old-style swings on my own country places for over 20 years now. I can tell you that an awful lot of children (and adults) have shared the joy of swinging and creating a nice breeze during those sticky summer days. There's a real pride in knowing I helped to put those smiles there—a pride everyone should know. So I've decided to teach all of you how to make a tree swing that your children and grandchildren will remember you by.

The first step in how to make a tree swing is gathering the right materials. You'll need a hand saw or electric Skilsaw (try square or other right angle), wood rasp, sandpaper, screwdriver (an electric power driver is best), a drill with 1/8" and 3/8" wood-bits, lumber, rope, fasteners, fittings (as specified), plus a can of wood preservative and a brush. However, you'll need no great carpentry expertise, and I'll demonstrate some marlinspike seamanship so that you can fasten the rope securely.

First, there's the matter of picking the right tree. You should look for one that is in open ground, and that has a thick, live-wood limb which is growing parallel to (and not inaccessibly high off) the ground. A limb much less than ten inches in diameter will bounce, reducing the young swinger's stability. A solution might be to attach the swing close to the trunk, but too close and the swing will carom off it. Deadwood branches will break, and limbs that angle upwards will skew the arc of the swing.

The higher the limb, the longer the swing's pendulum motion and the higher it can go before gravity overpowers momentum. Playground swings are six to ten feet high, and a grade-schooler can get five to six feet above the pavement. Your yard will provide a softer landing for any slip, and your swing's ropes can be attached fifteen feet off the ground to give a good but not too-high ride. For a real cloud-duster, you can send a good tree climber up to fasten your ropes to a limb 25 feet or more high. Make a point of supervising those children under 12 years of age. Measure or estimate the height of the limb off of the ground. Then go to a quality lumber yard and a good hardware store and purchase the following weather-resistant materials:

Wood: Measure six feet of nominal 4/5" thick, 6' wide (actual measure: 1 1/16" thick and 5 1/2" wide) #2-grade Eastern white, Western red cedar, or California redwood decking, preferably with "eased" or rounded edges. If these naturally rot-resistant, non-splintering woods are not available, buy white oak or another hardwood if you can. Common two-inch-thick construction softwood lumber is okay. It's thick and splintery but definitely better than thin, easy-splitting, 1" pine shelving. Don't think of using deck boards of that colored, pressure-treated wood—you don't want a splinter containing arsenic or copper preservative in your child's tender bottom.

3/23/2018 8:41:13 PM

I love your take on the 'new and modern' swing sets that squish your thighs together and leave chain marks on your hands. I wish I had a tree to build exactly your design, but I don't.....I have a suburban backyard but I could install wooden posts. Do you have any plans for that? BTW, I'm almost 70 and need some good exercise that I love...and that would be swinging in my backyard. ;-)

9/10/2017 5:32:51 PM

polyrope breaks and splinters and the tiny pieces of plastic rope pieces fester in the skin you can hardly get them out! and twine will break without notice after a few yrs. we have replaced our ropes several times i find parachute rope to be the best it doesn't splinter with age and lasts the longest.

9/8/2017 9:03:32 PM

Hi, so nice to see that other people are experiencing the same issues I am. Sorry to hear, but , still somewhat comforting to know I am not alone. My girlfriend who just returned from Italy said all the same things, and since I also have gluten and lactose problems, as she does, I am hoping to find some answers here. What are they, the (U.S.) doing to our food!!!!????



October 19-20, 2019
Topeka, Kansas

Join us in the heart of the Midwest to explore ways to save money and live efficiently. This two-day event includes hands-on workshops and a marketplace featuring the latest homesteading products.


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Money-Saving Tips in Every Issue!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters

click me